South Signal Mountain (11,248 ft) to Kettle Tarn Loop, 06/08/2003
Started hiking from the North Fork Trailhead at 10:00. Compared to previous times I've been here, the parking area had quite a few cars, being almost full. We hiked up the gravel road, then right onto the Signal Mountain Trail. The day was spectacularly nice, clear skies, sunny, and cool. On the hike to Signal Mountain we passed three groups of people. The only snow that we had to cross over was in the wooded area just below treeline. Without stopping once along the way, we arrived at South Signal Mountain at about 12:10. We left the South Signal Mountain summit at 13:20, following the ridge southwest, which is marked with Rocky Mountain National Park boundary posts, and is the route of the very lightly traveled Signal Mtn Trail. Actually South Signal Mountain is at the point of a sharp corner of the Rocky Mountain National Park boundary. From the summit you can see one set of boundary posts heading directly south, the other set of boundary posts heads southwest along a ridge, which is the way we went. We continued hiking along this ridge for one hour until we reached a saddle point with a small meadow between two unnamed knobs at elevations 11,058 ft and 10,979 ft at 14:20. From here it was terra incognito as we left all traces of a trail, and headed south off the ridge through the forest. Our goal was to descend down to the Dunraven Trail and the North Fork of the Big Thompson. The terrain started out nice but the forest then became denser, and the terrain became generally rougher. The topomap showed an area of no vegetation just west of our position so we headed in that direction, but we found that what was once a clear area, now was a young forest, so that didn't help us any. Occasionally, between breaks in the trees, we could see the Kettle Tarn down in the valley below, which served as a guidepost on our descent. After an hour and a half of making our way down, we reached the Dunraven Trail at 15:50. This was pretty rough country going from the top of the ridge to the trail below, and we DON'T recommend it. On the way back we stopped for a late lunch, and we passed the Boundary Creek Campground. We returned to the truck at about 17:40.